Sunday, March 30, 2008
During one of the weekends of Heather's visit was the Tokyo International Anime Fair or TAF for quick typing purposes. TAF is one of the largest anime trade fairs in the world and is held annually at Tokyo's infamous Big Site. Seeing as how we sort of met each other via anime, we took a day to go and check it out.

We headed out early to Tokyo Big Site, but didn't do it early enough. By the time we reached our destination, there was what turned out to be a 2-3 hour long line to get into the fair. While we were in line I was really worried about the fact that we didn't have tickets. Occasionally events have separate lines for people with tickets and people without so I ended up walking along the line to make sure we could get tickets. I thought I could take a quick peek, but even just walking along the line to the ticket booth, which wasn't even the end of the line, took me 30min round trip. Crazy! Luckily the line was excellent for people watching. Otaku are an interesting bunch. I was also surprised to see a lot of families in line at well.

After making it out of the horribly long line and battling many thoughts of just giving up and going to do something else, we finally made it! And, what's the first display we happen to run into right after entering? Death Note. I love the Death Note anime, manga, and movies so it was a real treat for me to get to check out the booth right off the bat. We continued to check out various booths and during this time I realized just how many animes are out there. I had no idea what most of what I was looking at even was. I guess I'm behind the times on my anime viewing. Still, even though I didn't know what a lot of it was, it was still fun to walk around and check out all the various models and figurines on display. I also watched several upcoming anime previews and have a few on my list that I want to check out. Most notably, Vampire Knight.

One of my favorite displays was the person sized gundam that was there. I swear I took like 50 pictures of the thing. I also really liked looking at all the model characters. I don't actually own any, but I like seeing all the outfits that different characters wear. I'm not overly fond of the skimpy skin and panties showing kind though.

One disappointing rule at TAF is the no cosplay rule. Pretty much all of the big game and anime related conventions in Japan allow for cosplay except this one. This was really disappointing to Heather, who wanted to try cosplaying in Japan. However, while attendees can't cosplay, various booths hire models to cosplay. So there was at least some cosplay to look at, just not very much of it. One nice surprise was that there were a few males cosplaying from the Vampire Knight series. Cosplayers are usually girls in rather skimpy outfits and its hard to get pictures of them sometimes as they are surrounded by a ton of guys with cameras. We ended up sort of stalking the poor boys though as we kept taking crappy pictures for some reason and would have to hunt them down to try again. Regardless, the best shot I got of them is still pretty crappy. In person, I swear, they were quite pretty.

Another disappointing thing about TAF is the lack of awesome swag. Swag is basically all the free stuff you can get at a convention. Its usually passed out by cosplaying models or given as a gift for watching a preview or filling out a survey. Yeah, there was swag, but it all seemed to be just papers and pamphlets advertising up and coming series and products. I saw very few CD demos and free merchandise being given away, which is weird as they seem to be given away in abundance other places. Tokyo Game show comes prominently to mind. Anyway, it was still a good day, though maybe not totally worth the wait in line. Next time I'll plan on coming either way early or later in the day once the line dies down. I leave you with some anti-piracy propaganda that I'm glad no one care about or else I wouldn’t be able to understand what the characters were saying in the animes I like to watch. Long live fansubbers!

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posted by am at 12:21 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, March 28, 2008
Matsumoto, Round 2
I really love Japan's castle, so when Heather came out, I wanted to show her one. Since my favorite castle, Himeji, is a bit too far away being near Kyoto and all, I took her to Matsumoto castle. Even though I'd been before, I was still excited to visit. I really love the castle and Matsumoto itself is a very nice town to just walk around and relax. As I wasn't by myself this visit, I made sure to have Heather take a bunch of pictures of me!

After the castle, we wondered around the town and hit up a bunch of the smaller temples and shrines that surround it. We also hit up the museum near the castle. I'm not normally a museum person, but you get a free pass for it when you pay for entrance to the castle and I really love the giant straw shoe they have.

Before heading back to Yamanashi, we stopped at a restaurant near the station and had some soba. Soba is Matsumoto’s specialty dish and I didn't get the chance to try it last time so I made I did this time around. I had a tempura/soba dish and it was excellent. The only down side was that it was super pricey. I'll have to shop around for a better price if I happen to go again.

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posted by am at 9:41 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Mt. Minobu
Mt. Minobu is a famous mountain and temple located in southern Yamanashi. It's 1,153 meters high and houses the Kuno-ji Temple which is the headquarters of the Nichiren sect of Buddhism. The temple is massive and well known for the 287 stone steps you have to climb in order to get to it. Apparently the JETs who came the year before I did had to climb to the temple in their business suits! While I'm glad I didn't have to do that, I have always wanted to see the temple, so I decided it would be a nice day trip to take with Heather.

We left after I got done with my morning classes and took the train about 2 hours to the Minobu Station. Because I had to work that morning, we arrived sort of late and the temple isn't all that close to the station. We started down the map at the station and decided to try and walk our way their after the train station people proved to be unhelpful with provided transport information. However, after walking only a little ways from the station, a lady who had overheard our conversation with the train station people ran over and told us which bus we could take and when the last bus back would be. Thank goodness for helpful, English speaking, Japanese people because it would have taken us at least an hour or so to walk all the way there.

At the front gate to the temple we stopped to take a few pictures and then got a good look at the staircase. In your head, 280 some steps might not seem like all that much, but when the stone steps are about twice the size of a normal step, it's a little more difficult. Still, the climb wasn't much of a problem, though I do see how climbing in a business suit might be a pain.

Once we finally made it to the top, we took a moment to do a victory pose and started looking around. The temple complex was huge compared to any of the other temples I had been too. There were several buildings and you could actually go inside and walk around! While walking around, we also ran into a bunch of monks, which was kind of cool. One must have just come back from the store as he had a bag full of groceries. They only downside to the whole thing was that at one point we got yelled at for taking pictures. I guess you’re not supposed to take them while you’re in the temple. Now we know.

Outside the temple happens to be just as beautiful as the inside. Especially at this time of year as the temple has some really nice cherry blossoms. The temple was even selling cherry blossoms that you could plant in your yard! Seeing as how I don't have a yard, I opted for some cherry blossom themed sweets which turned out to be absolutely delicious. I'll probably go back next year just to pick up more of the sweets!

After exploring the temple grounds, we considered going to the summit of Mt. Minobu itself, but we missed the last pull cable car to the top. We could have hiked it, but would have had to hike back down in the dark which neither of us were thrilled at the prospect of. So we took the bus back to the Minobu station and took a little walk around the town to check out some of the cherry blossoms we'd seen on the bus ride over. The town is small, but really quaint and has way more cherry trees than any town near me. After our tree viewing, we hit up a local restaurant for some hoto, which is a bit different that the hoto in my area, but is still just as good.

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posted by am at 12:20 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Disney Sea
Well, I can and one more Disney park to my list of Disney parks visited. While Heather was here, her, Janet, Tiffany, and myself all decided to spend a day and Tokyo Disney Sea. What is Disney Sea? Well, its like a big kid version of Disneyland, one of which happens to be located right next to Disney Sea and is also on my list of places to visit. But the four of us opted to make this trip Disney Sea only.

Janet, Heather, and I left Yamanashi early and trained our way over to the park, which is actually not it Tokyo, but Chiba. It took about 3 hours to get there. Tiffany didn't join us and she had plans in Tokyo that morning, but said she would meet up with us at the park around noon. From the train station closest to the park you take this cute Disney themed tram to the entrance. You have to pay for the tram just like you would for a train. I really dug the Mickey shaped windows and hand holder things (note the pants...cute!). We got there as the park was opening, but had to wait in a rather lengthy line to get tickets. I would highly recommend purchasing them in advance if you can.

Once through the gate, the first thing you notice is a giant globe. It is also a fountain and the water parts of the globe have actual water running down it. There is also a cute golden Mickey you can take your picture next to but the line for getting your picture taken was outrageously long. Said long line did not make me feel very optimistic about the lines for rides that we would soon be facing.

Once past the globe, the next thing you notice is the giant volcano. It would erupt about every hour or so and shoot out flames and smoke. From the volcano, we went straight to the ride that Janet, who had already been to Disney Sea, most wanted to ride. It was new since the last time she had been and thus she was really excited for it. So we wondered over to the Tower of Terror ride to check out the line, and lets just say, OMG, was it long!

Before I get to far into my Disney adventure, I need to tell you about the fast pass system. Maybe you know about it, but it was my first time visiting any sort of amusement park that had this kind of system. You basically can get a pass that will allow you to pass the main line. You can get them at machines located near any attraction, including stage shows. The ticket will display a time that you can come back and get on the ride. The only problem is that you can only have one at a time and there is no way to cheat the system.

Now, at the tower ride, we faced a dilemma. The line to get a fast pass, looked almost as long as the regular line to get on the ride. Thus, Heather and Janet made the decision to get in the regular line as it might prove to be fast. I decided to pass on this particular ride as, while I'm a huge roller coaster fan, I had straight fall rides and tower drops. They're just no my thing. So I decided to wander around the park and take some pictures and maybe see a stage show while they were in line.

Now here is where the fun begins. If you can call it fun. After walking to the other side of the park, Janet calls me and says that it probably would have been a better idea to get the fast past as there was a huge chunk of the normal ride line that we couldn't see. But, since they were already in line, they decided to stick with it. She called because she thought it would be a good idea to get fast passes for another ride while they were stuck in line. Thus, I trekked back over to the Tower, grabbed their card things, and went to go get fast passes for my favorite ride, Indiana Jones. I then went back to give them their tickets (and yes, this involved a lot of line hopping on my part) when Janet pointed out that one of the 3 wasn't valid. Somehow, I managed to mess up using the machine and didn't realize it. So I had to go back and get one more ticket, which ended up not being for the same time as the other three. Grrr. At around this time, Tiffany also texted me to say she would be here soon, which also led me to realize that she wouldn't have a fast pass for the Indiana Jones ride. Trouble. Anyway, I after my ticket mishap, I didn't have time to catch a show, so I just waiting at the front of the park for Tiffany to arrive. At about the time she got back, Janet and Heather had just finished up at the Tower ride after having waited in line for almost 3 hours. We then began to hit up various other rides while getting fast passes in between them.

In total, I ended up riding, Indiana Jones, Journey to the Center of the Earth, some water ride, and a few roller coasters. I also went to see the Little Mermaid show, which was actually pretty interesting as a lot of it was done with puppets and high wires.

In between all the rides, we picked up some food as well. On of the most interesting and popular snacks available at the park is flavored popcorn. It's available at both Disney Sea and Disneyland in multiple flavors. Disney Sea had plain butter, salt, caramel, black pepper, sesame, chocolate, and my absolute favorite, strawberry. You could pick some up in a small bag for about 300yen or a large cutesy bucket for about 1000yen. I also tried a curry dog, which the park is also famous for. For lunch we stopped at one of the many restaurants and all ended up getting a kids meal. Seriously, who could pass up a Mickey shaped blob of rice?

As the night came to a close, we stopped to try and get some group pictures. However, the spot we chose to try and take pictures at must have been cursed or haunted or something because none of us could manage to get a decent picture, and it was not due to lack of trying on our parts!

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posted by am at 12:20 AM | Permalink | 0 comments